By Alexander Tidd:
The squeaking of athletic shoes, the sound of leather smacking the court and the motivated grunts and cheers of dedicated competitors all contribute to a roar in City College’s gymnasium that can only mean one thing: the Rams volleyball team is back in action and ready to bump, set and spike their way to the top of the standings.
The team has been working all summer to fine-tune their game to the pinnacle for this year’s grueling 28-game season, and head coach Saga Vae likes what he sees—in fact, he thinks they have what it takes to hang another banner from the gymnasium rafters.
“We’ll be tough—straight up,” Vae said. “Overall, I think … this season we can expect to be first, second or third.”
A team notorious for its relentless defensive ability, Vae says his Rams have bolstered their offense with several new point-scoring weapons.
“Our strength is defense, but we’ve also got three, four new girls who are power hitters,” Vae said. “They are our go-to girls who we are expecting to step up and put those balls away.”
Vae is particularly excited for this coming season because he feels that his team has addressed several of last year’s shortcomings by developing his players into experienced leaders at every level.
“We have more experience all around—the front row and the back row,” Vae said. “We had a team entirely made up of freshman last year, but those girls are all sophomores now who have a collegiate season to draw on.”
These sophomore athletes appear to be ready to take on the responsibilities of their new rank, both by leading by example and by sharing their wisdom with the new freshmen. Rebecca Gonzales, who recently stepped into the role of setter, thinks that the Rams are going to dominate the court.
“I think experience [is our new strength],” Gonzales said. “Since we know how college ball works, we are trying to encourage the freshmen and tell them what to expect. Our experience helps them to become better players. We know how to expect the worst and play through it. After that, the rest comes easy.”
Additionally, Gonzales is thrilled with the club volleyball players who have joined the team this season. These athletes, she said, have a degree of insight and experience that is hard to come by.
“In club volleyball, you’re playing with teammates from all over the city who bring their own experiences to the table,” Gonzales said. “On a club team, you’re playing five games a day against teams from other cities, states and countries. It’s really tiring, which tests not only your physical abilities but also your mental stamina. Having these girls on the court with us really strengthens our team.”
The key to a winning season in 2013, however, is mixing these talented and diverse athletes into a cohesive, complimentary team. Though on paper this may seem like a daunting task, the Rams are coming together like they’ve been doing so for years. This is especially impressive in light of the fact that, in many cases, these girls have previously clashed on opposite sides of the net.
“We mesh together really well,” returning sophomore Rochelle Buenaflor said. “A bunch of us know each other from playing against each other in high school. Rebecca (Gonzales) and I, for example, have played against each other for years, but we are all clicking together now.”
Gaea Salazar, a first-year player with club volleyball experience, also thinks the team is coming together nicely.
“I love the overall attitude of the team—I think we all click pretty well,” Salazar said. “We have a strong basic skill set, collectively. We had a jamboree scrimmage recently that showed a lot of our weaknesses but also a lot of our strengths.”
One of those essential skills is adaptability. The Rams’ recently lost both their starting setters to injuries, but that doesn’t have the team worried. If anything, Salazar thinks it demonstrates the team’s resilience.
“We didn’t have our normal setters, but everyone stepped up their game because we had to make up for those two absent players,” Salazar said. “That makes me think we are going to have a really good season overall because we are already really balanced. Once we have our set lineup we will be stronger and more complete.”
Coach Vae, who predicts the team to go at least 16-12 this year, counts himself lucky to be at the helm of such a united and capable team.
“Our team has strong bonds, a great sense of camaraderie and the determination to win,” Vae said. “Every day, my girls know that today is the most important day of their lives. They share that drive to be the best; these girls’ personalities are all the same. We’ve got the drive to make this a championship season.”